A fault with the TARDIS means that the doors open just before it materialises, and when the Doctor and his companions emerge, they find that they have been shrunk to about an inch tall. In this state, they stumble across the plot of a businessman, Forester, to launch a new pesticide, DN6 which would effectively wipe out all insect life.
I am intrigued as to why the production team were so preoccupied with the idea of shrinking the TARDIS and its crew during the early days of the programme, when they plainly did not have either the means or the plot to achieve it satisfactorily. I like stories that feature playing with scale, for instance, I really enjoy the Ant-Man films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but this story didn’t really work for me.
There are two parts of the production that I would like to praise. The first is the set design, which, despite limitations, is broadly very good. I particularly like the dead insects and attention to detail with props like the matchbox and the sink helps the audience believe that the main cast have been reduced in size. There was obviously not enough budget to play with scale in the way that more recent movies are able to do, however, their efforts need to be commended. The other strong element is the main cast of Hartnell, Russell, Ford and Hill, who all put in good performances. Hartnell’s Doctor has come some way towards a softer and more sympathetic character, who is capable of apologising for his bad temper and shows some fondness for Barbara. Jacqueline Hill stands out as she does get poisoned by the DN6, and her concern for getting back to the ship whilst hiding her illness from the other three is particularly believable. These two elements help a rather lacklustre story from ranking even lower.
Ultimately, the story is not very engaging and I can see why there were doubts at the time it was made and why it was cut down from four parts to three. Ultimately, it feels that the production team had bitten off more than they could chew with this story and the technology simply did not exist to bring the story to the screen effectively. Whilst it is to be commended that they believed that they could do it all practically, it is particularly telling that most of the normal size things the shrunken TARDIS team interact with are all props rather than alive animals and people. The moment this is most obvious is when The Doctor, Barbara, Ian and Susan stand in front of Farrow’s dead body, where the body is clearly a static and blown up image of Frank Crawshaw. It also feels like the shrinking story line and the pesticide thread are equally underdeveloped, which might be down to the story being edited down in post-production, but even at three parts, there are moments that really drag, for instance, the sequences where the crew attempt to put corks under the receiver of the telephone in Crisis. The story also has a common problem of having a rushed climax
It doesn’t help that the small guest cast aren’t great. Farrow is hardly in the story, but Alan Tilvern and Reginald Barrett seem very ill suited to their roles in the story, not helped by a poor script and moments like Forester taking out a gun and then putting it away after the story has already shown the audience him murdering Farrow. Smithers seems to have varying knowledge of how the pesticide he has created affects wildlife other than pests at moments, but both he and Forester are quite two dimensional. Rosemary Johnson and Fred Ferris as Hilda and Bert seem to have wandered in from some other programme entirely as the operator and the policeman.
Verdict: A story with ideas beyond its means, Planet of Giants is largely let down by a lacklustre story and wooden performances from the guest cast. 3/10
Cast: William Hartnell (The Doctor), William Russell (Ian Chesterton), Jacqueline Hill (Barbara Wright), Carol Ann Ford (Susan Foreman), Alan Tilvern (Forester), Frank Crawshaw (Farrow), Reginald Barrett (Smithers), Rosemary Johnson (Hilda Rowse) & Fred Ferris (Bert Rowse).
Writer: Louis Marks
Directors: Mervyn Pinfield & Douglas Camfield
Parts: 3 (Planet of Giants, Dangerous Journey & Crisis)
Behind the Scenes
- Working titles for this story were Miniscule Story and The Miniscules.
- The idea of the Doctor and his companions being shrunk had been around for some time and had been considered for the first episode of the show, although this concept was the only one that was carried over from C.E Webber’s original idea. The idea of a shrunken TARDIS crew was then passed on to writer Robert Gould, but he seems to have given up on the idea and script editor David Whitaker released Gould from the commission and passed the idea to Louis Marks.
- Even when the story was produced, the Head of Serials at the BBC, Donald Wilson, was not keen and did not believe that the story was strong enough to open the second season. He would have preferred The Dalek Invasion of Earth to open the season instead, however, this was not feasible due to the departure of Carol Ann Ford at the end of that story. He insisted on the story being shortened to three parts, necessitating footage from Part 3 and Part 4 to be merged, with the cut footage not retained.
- Mervyn Pinfield was unable to direct Episode 4, so Douglas Camfield directed Part 4. As the two episodes were merged, Camfield was credited as director of Part 3.
- First credited contributions of Louis Marks, Dudley Simpson and Douglas Camfield.
- First story to be set on contemporary Earth since An Unearthly Child.
- The first story to feature a miniaturised TARDIS. The TARDIS would go on to be miniaturised in Logopolis and Flatline, whilst the Monk’s TARDIS would be in The Time Meddler.
A difficult one to pick as I didn’t really enjoy this story. However, I did like the idea of the cat, even if it is obvious that the cat and the cast aren’t present at the same time.
Do you know why I’m a success, Mr Farrow? Because I’ve never allowed the word “can’t” to exist.Forester
Previous First Doctor Review: The Reign of Terror
Other reviews mentioned:
Other works mentioned
Ant-Man & The Wasp